I am back at home in Denver after two weeks in Greece. I am listening to a CD I purchased on my way out of Athens: Oh! My Sweet Air by Stamatis Spanoudakis. I listened to a cassette recording of these synthesized liturgical instrumental songs every night as I fell to sleep during the two years I lived in Greece from 1982-84. Even though I had not heard this music since my switch to CDs years ago, I recognized the first note when I heard it play at the music store. Oh! My Sweet Air will ease the transition between the two starkly different worlds I inhabit—from the sound of tolling bells and water lapping on a pebble beach to leaf blowers and lawn mowers; from the sight of dark-leafed orange trees dotted with bright rounds of fruit and hillsides bursting with yellow-blooming broom to shouting billboards and dull asphalt; from the lively fragrance of jasmine and wild thyme to exhaust fumes deadening the air; from the measured pace of a seaside walk to a frenzy on the streets.
I traveled to a Greece that has suffered much this past year, a Greece that will suffer even greater assaults before this economic/political storm passes. An occasional scar from the rioting that occurred in Athens when reforms were instituted this past spring can still be seen if one scrutinizes the facades of buildings around Syntagma Square. Numerous storefront vacancies were harder to miss. And the incomparable Benaki Museum is now closed on Mondays as well as Tuesdays.
The tide is far from turning, and yet there are signs of tenacity everywhere: a new vegetarian/vegan café and a kicky new coffee shop around the corner from my Hotel Adonis in Athens, and a new antique shop on the pedestrian mall; upgrades in all the small hotels I stayed in; new small wineries winning gold and silver medallions at international competitions for their velvety smooth wines with complex flavors and long finishes. And a people known and honored since the time of Homer for their warmth and hospitality do not even now lay their burdens on their guests. On the contrary, I and other travelers in Greece were struck by the heightened warm greetings, generosity, and good wishes. And more importantly, I heard repeated assertions from the Greeks themselves that they have survived worse things—that their spirit will never die.
In spite of all Greece’s challenges, local food continues to be fresh and flavorful, the wines are now better than ever, the landscapes and seascapes triumph, the history of course only deepens, and the people teach resilience and hospitality by example. In other words, just as every note of Oh! My Sweet Air is as evocative as it was the first time I heard the album decades ago, the Greece I have just left is fundamentally the Greece I have known since my first trip there 38 years ago—and I love it still.
I simply wanted you to know. And, on behalf of my friends in Greece, I invite you to spread the word.